Why Chicago Thin Crust Pizza Is Great
Growing up in New York, the first time I witnessed a whole pizza getting cut up into diamond-shaped bites, I was confused. That was until I went to Chicago, and wised up.
Shortly after I got out of culinary school, I quit my job to go work for an amazing chef out of San Francisco named Nate Appleman, who was working at A16. At the time, every restaurateur in New York wanted to work with him, and he ended up opening a pizza place called Pulino's on the Bowery.
I started working for him, and pizza was a big part of what we were doing. The first time I started pulling the pizzas out of the ovens, we had to cut them into little diamond square shapes. I saw that and was like, "What the fuck is this? Is this kid on drugs?" So I went up to one of the cooks and asked, "Why are you cutting the pizza like that? What are you doing!" And he was like, "What do you mean? That's how we cut the pizzas around here."
I said, "What do you mean? That's not how you cut a pizza. Where the fuck did this come from?" And then Nate Appleman came over and explained, "Look, man. I'm from the Midwest, and in the Midwest, this is how everyone cuts their pizza, so they can sit at the bar and eat it. I was like, "OK, but this isn't gonna work here, bro." I realized that I needed to shut up and listen, so I did, and we went on to make awesome pizzas. It took some time for me to adjust to it.
I had no idea what that was, and didn't understand it. But then, I went to Chicago.
When I stepped into Chicago, I realized that no one there gave a fuck about the pizza culture of New York or how to hold a slice. Italians get so tied to traditions, like, "You gotta hold your pizza like this," or, "You can never put your cheese on fish." There's so many unspoken rules, and I'm one of those people that often follows those rules.
When I visited Vito & Nicks Pizzeria, it all started to make sense. I was out of my environment, and in their zone. I saw the dudes at the bar eating these square pizzas. The magic in the kitchen at Vito & Nicks is great because they have a machine that pats out the dough and rolls it into a really thin pie. Once it's patted out, the guys give it a quick stretch, put it on the peel, and they're fast, because they're making so many pizzas over there. They're flying.
They fling the peels back and forth like ninjas, and you gotta catch those peels to keep up. They have deck ovens and super-thin pizzas that get a bunch of toppings on them and then get thrown into the deck oven.
It gets rotated once or twice, comes out onto the pizza tray, and it's a very different pie than the deep-dish species. It's super-thin and super crispy with a bunch of toppings—which come to the edge of the crust—but there's barely any crust. They cut them into bite-size squares. It's perfect for a family if they're eating a bunch of other things too. It's great for a bunch of people sitting at the bar, drinking beers and watching a game. In that atmosphere, it is really great.
That crust has to really develop. Even though it's really thin, it takes some time to cook with all of those toppings on it. If I was clocking it, it would probably take seven to ten minutes. It's something to truly experience.